In a difficult job market, making it to the job interview can feel like quite an accomplishment. But in reality, this is where your chance to land the position begins. Most human resource departments will interview several candidates for the job, and in a competitive job market the number of candidates that are interviewed for each position is increasing from three to five or more.

It is important to realize that you need to make the best impression from the time you enter the interview until well after the interview is over.

Preparing for the interview:

Most people know how to dress appropriately for an interview, but your preparation needs to go further than simply choosing the right pair of shoes and getting your haircut.

Prepare a portfolio that displays the work that you have done in the past. The best portfolios are built over time. If you have just graduated from school, you should highlight the classes that directly apply to the position you want. As you gain experience you should substitute out your class projects with examples that you have done in the workforce.

If possible you should also create an online portfolio to include in your resume and cover letter. Take a hard copy of your resume and a copy of your portfolio on a jump drive that you can give to the interview committee at the end of the interview.

In addition to your portfolio, take time to learn about the company. The company’s philosophy and business strategy should be online. Generally you can also find out about the people who are interviewing you or how the department you will be working in will fit into the company. The Internet makes it easier to find this information, but if you can use this in the interview it will help make a better impression.

RELATED: How To Best Prepare for Your Job Interview.

During the Interview

Practicing the basic interview questions is a good idea. Ask friends and family members to review the basic questions with you. You need to prepare for different interview situations such as a panel interview where you will be interviewed by several people instead of by just one person.

You need to make sure you make contact with each person you are speaking to throughout the interview. It is important to feel comfortable in front of the group.

If you are in a group interview where you and several other candidates are being interviewed at the same time, you should make sure that you volunteer answers for questions.

It is important that you have a unique answer that applies to your job skills and that you are not just echoing someone else’s answers. This is a difficult interview because you need to be assertive without coming across as being aggressive or rude.

In the interview you need a firm handshake, and make a personal connection with the person who is interviewing you. Make sure you highlight any experience you have that they specifically listed in the job description.

Each answer should connect back to one of the strengths you can offer the company with an example of how you have done it in the past. This is essential in the interview; you are selling yourself to the company. This means that it is okay to highlight your strengths and talk about how they can benefit the company.

Related: How To Behave in a Behavioral Interview.

After the Interview

Take time after the interview to make another good impression. Within twenty four hours you should send a thank you letter to the people who interviewed you. In the email or card you can mention your online portfolio again, but the letter should focus on how much you enjoyed the interview, and that you appreciate their time and consideration.

It does not need to be a long letter, but the people who interviewed you will remember you took the time to thank them. In addition to an email you can send a thank you note through the mail. This may make an additional impression. Be sure to use the correct names on the cards.

Related: How To Send a Follow-Up Thank You Letter.

Charissa Newark is the resident blogger and the editor for After graduating from the University of Maryland with a B.S. in English in 2005 and unable to find a “9-5”, Charissa began freelance writing and doing research for various websites. A few of the current topics she is researching include helping with choosing an online accounting school.

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